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"Days to the Gallows:A Novel of the Hartford Witch Panic"
When seventeen year old Ann Cole begins accusing friends and neighbors of witchcraft, a witch panic envelopes the Puritan Town of Hartford, CT in 1662. Paranoia and hysteria run rampant. Ann's friend Hester tries to discourage Ann's hysterics, but the more she discovers, the more conflicted she becomes about her own loyalties. With the ruthless Marshal Gilbert, the Puritan Elders and the Acting Governor himself at her beck and call, Ann can prove to be a dangerous enemy. After all, anyone in Hartford might be a witch. Based on a true story and after years of research, Ms. Spada Basto brings to life a turbulent and disturbing period of Colonial Connecticut history. It is a time when wolves prowled near the town and superstitions about witches often brought people to an untimely death-hanging by a noose on Gallows' Hill
Basto’s chilling debut serves as a provocative reminder of how the term “witch hunt” became part of the American lexicon. In 1662 Hartford, Conn., 17-year-old Hester Hosmer follows her friend Ann Cole to watch an eerie moonlit gathering of some of their neighbors. In a subsequent prayer meeting, Ann claims that those at the gathering are witches, and the float-or-sink water tests and trials begin. Hester watches with growing horror as those with unacceptable religious beliefs—and some Puritans—are condemned by the righteous Marshal Gilbert and are publicly hanged. As Hester’s fear that she will be one of the ones accused intensifies, the handsome young Tom, whose family are traveling traders, could offer a way out. Basto’s use of period language can make for awkward prose, but her descriptions can be rather striking. (“Rumors swirled like the powdered snow that drifted off the wind-blown mounds.”) The ugliness of early American religious persecution and misogyny are admirably captured in this well-researched story. (BookLife)
Kirkus Review

Hysteria in Connecticut spells trouble for those on the periphery in this debut novel set in the 17th century.

In 1662, two young women witness an unusual midnight gathering on Hartford’s South Green. The merrymaking is taken as witchcraft, and the women, Hester Hosmer and Ann Cole, are soon at the center of a mania that grips their close-knit, Puritanical town. Ann, a troubled girl who was once an outsider, finds herself with power and attention. After a child’s untimely and inexplicable death, Ann begins lobbing claims of witchcraft at the men and women she spied on the green. The foreboding town marshal, the reverends, and the God-fearing villagers all heed her allegations and set out to rid themselves of the supposed evil in their midst. The accused are arrested. Trials, tests, and hangings commence. Hester distances herself from Ann and her smug delight in the success of her charges. As Hester watches the mounting frenzy, she begins to question the actions of not just Ann, but her family and neighbors as well. Her only ally is Tom, the peddler’s son, who urges Hester to leave the fanaticism behind and join him somewhere new and safe. Basto’s novel is a well-written and -researched account of a historical event. The Hartford witch panic is the lesser-known but no less captivating precursor to the Salem witch trials. The author skillfully demonstrates how quickly fear and panic can spread, insidious forces that ultimately leave no one above suspicion. Hester is an excellent narrator, an insider who undergoes a subtle but marked change in her beliefs and perspective. Where others see God’s will, Hester comes to identify deception, prejudice, and alarm. Basto also sets the scene well, bringing the sights and sounds of the Hartford Town Market to life. Her descriptions of the witch trials, including the appearances of the suspects, the rumblings of denunciations, and the damning silence of those who refuse to speak up for the innocent, are clearly and vividly wrought.  

A superb addition to the historical fiction genre, this engrossing witchcraft tale should appeal to a wide-ranging audience. 

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5369-7804-9

Page count: 286pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Program: Kirkus Indie

Review Posted Online: June 7th, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2017